EPRG: The Decline of the British High Street

The St Andrews Economic Policy Research Group has been working on a series of extended reports this year. The third report concerns the decline of the British high street.

By Agnes Li, Eva Graf, Philip Jenkins & Syna Singh

The British high street has been a centre of commerce and culture for centuries, and is a major attraction in most cities. However, for the past decades, the high streets have been experiencing a huge decline, with towns and small cities suffering more than larger destinations like Manchester and London.

Our study aims to investigate and understand the different aspects of the crisis facing the town centres of Britain. A combination of factors have contributed to the collapse: from the financial crisis of 2008/09, to the rise of out of town shopping, as well the acceleration of e-commerce sales, acutely exacerbated by the pandemic. The decline of the British high street has social consequences too. Vacant stores correspond to an increasing number of people – disproportionately women, immigrants and people with lower educational qualifications – losing jobs. Those stores which have managed to stay open tend to specialise in luxury goods and have a greater emphasis on experiential value. When stores offering less expensive goods, such as large supermarket chains, are quick to convert to e-commerce, performance increases – thus highlighting the importance of online shopping and consumer experience.

A shift towards e-commence and the experience economy is therefore essential for the survival and revival of the British high street. With the threat of exacerbating inequality and degrading the cultural value of Britain’s towns and cities, research and remediation is necessary to reverse the decline of the British high street.

To learn more about our research and this topic, check out our report on our website.

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